Are There Skeletons in Your Closet?

Background checks explained.

You have been working diligently in your search for a new job opportunity. Finally, you land an interview and get a great offer. The hiring manager indicates that the only thing remaining is a background check (BC). Your heart starts to pound and beads of sweat appear on your forehead. Questions fly through your mind. Let’s answer these questions for you.

Does this company trust its employees?
Companies are using BCs more than ever before to be certain they’re hiring the right person. Unfortunately, BCs are more common because so many job seekers have a tendency to “exaggerate” on their resumes. Companies want to identify potential problems in the candidate’s employment or personal history.

What are they looking for?
BCs include criminal history, civil history, wants/warrants, credit reports, reference verification, social security reports, education, driving history, previous employer verification and even drug tests.

What are they going to find?
Only information of public record is available; juvenile records cannot be accessed.

Can they do a BC without my permission?
No. Companies cannot conduct a BC without your written authorization.

Can I be turned down because of a BC?
If you’re turned down because of a BC, the company must tell you why, in accordance with federal law.

Am I in trouble because of the DUI I got when I was 20 years old?
It depends, as timing plays a role here. Felony and misdemeanor searches can be conducted by county, state, or throughout the nation. Some states will only provide information for the past seven years. You need to check each state for its policy.

Is a drug test conducted with a BC?
Approximately 15 to 20% of all BCs include a drug test. BC companies typically contract with local medical clinics to conduct the test. It can be expensive, so it is not done in all cases. In most cases, the job requirements determine if a drug test is necessary, particularly for anyone operating machinery or a motor vehicle. Executives are also frequently screened.

Will they know if I was involved in a court case?
Yes. A BC includes whether the job candidate is/was a plaintiff or defendant.

Will my bankruptcy from 12 years ago prevent me from getting the job?
Credit checks are a very common item for BCs. Companies are searching for financial stability. If you filed bankruptcy, it can appear on your credit report for up to 10 years. However, this does not mean that you will have bad credit for 10 years. You can start re-establishing your credit immediately after filing bankruptcy. Even without filing bankruptcy, most negative items appear on your credit report for at least 7 years.

Will they find out I got fired instead of quitting? What will my former vindictive boss say about me?
Employer verification is the item that makes most job seekers nervous. Almost everyone has had some form of disagreement with his or her boss. The concern centers on what the employer will say and whether they will release employment files. In most cases, because of a dramatic upsurge in lawsuits from job seekers who received false bad references, previous employers typically only confirm dates of employment. Compensation and good or bad references are not generally provided; however, that doesn’t mean it is not done. A job seeker might want to consider hiring a “reference check” company to verify what previous employers are saying.

One thing to watch out for is an inaccurate blemish on your record. Bob Mather, CEO of, indicates that identity theft and false criminal reporting are on the increase and can appear on your BC. He mentions, “Errors in criminal history frequently occur as the darker side of identity theft. Most people quickly become aware of problems on their credit history as a result of identity theft. But you should also be aware that false reporting of crimes may be reflected on your BC because someone has stolen your identity.”

In 2007, there were over 8 million incidents of identity theft reported by the Department of Justice. If you have any concern about identity theft, or if you wish to learn what a BC will reveal about your background, you may wish to conduct a BC on yourself for a nominal fee.

As far as what you can do, the next step is to relax. Too often job candidates worry too much about a BC. In the overwhelming number of cases, minor problems on your BC will not be an issue. Problems that occurred in the distant past will be overlooked based on your recent history and track record of performance. If a company is going to do a BC, be straightforward with them about any problem that might be discovered. Offer evidence that this is no longer an issue. Your hard work and honesty will help overcome any mistakes from the past.